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The Truth About Zero Dark Thirty

Director Alex Gibney on the dangerous myth perpetuated by the film.

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3) What is Missing

When it comes to torture, what is irresponsible about ZD30 is what it excludes.

The FBI and a great many CIA agents vigorously opposed the so-called "enhanced interrogation techniques" introduced by the CIA at the behest of the Bush Administration. These techniques were derived from the SERE program (SERE stands for "Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape) in which soldiers who are at risk of capture are administered "harsh techniques" they are likely to face at the hands of the enemy, including waterboarding. Originally, many of these "techniques" were derived from brutal interrogations used by Chinese and Soviet Communists who most frequently used them to obtain false confessions for political purposes. As part of this CIA "program," three individuals were waterboarded: Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, Abu Zubaydah and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed.

Advocates of the CIA program like to cite Abu Zubaydah as an example of how waterboarding worked. But in fact, before Abu Zubaydah was waterboarded 83 times, he was interrogated by an FBI agent named Ali Soufan. After Soufan read Abu Zubaydah his Miranda rights, he used lawful interrogation techniques to get all the valuable information he had to offer, including the identity of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. More relevant to this film is the fact that KSM, during his waterboarding program, vigorously denied the importance of al-Kuwaiti. So confident was the CIA in the effectiveness of waterboarding -- despite all evidence to the contrary -- that the CIA actually assumed that KSM was telling the truth about the unimportance of al-Kuwaiti, when he was actually lying. The CIA's unjustified confidence in waterboarding likely derailed the hunt for bin Laden until the interrogation of Ghul.

ZB30 also withholds how much damage was done by the false information obtained by waterboarding. Ibn al-Sheik al Libi was being interrogated successfully by the FBI when an impatient Bush Administration demanded that the CIA take over. The CIA wrapped him in duct tape and packed him in a wooden box to be shipped to Cairo where he was waterboarded. As a result he offered up information linking al Qaeda with Saddam Hussein which was used by Colin Powell when he gave his famous speech before the UN. Partially as a result, we invaded Iraq. Later on, the CIA admitted that al-Libi had given false information. But by then we already had "boots on the ground" in Iraq.

Kathryn Bigelow must have been delighted when she discovered a female CIA agent was at the heart of the hunt for bin Laden. But compare Maya's infallibility in the film with the case of another female CIA agent -- a redhead like Jessica Chastain -- who was such a fan of waterboarding that she asked to "sit in" on the slow motion drowning of KSM. (As Jane Mayer notes in her book, "The Dark Side," she was rebuffed by a superior who told her that waterboarding is not a spectator sport.) She supervised the kidnapping and torture of a man named Khaled el-Masri in the CIA's "Salt Pit," a black site in Afghanistan. Despite a valid German passport, the agent insisted on his continued torment and incarceration (despite the protests of Condelezza Rice) until it was finally revealed that the agent had mixed him up with another man named al-Masri. (Whoops, we tortured a man over a spelling mistake!) Without apology, he was then dropped on a lonely road in Albania to try to pick up the pieces of his life. Just this month, the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg declared his treatment at the hands of the CIA to have been torture -- the first time this has happened. Where did we see this kind of cruel incompetence treated in ZD30?

 
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